ECMCF Fellow Feature: Leisa Mathews

In September 2022, Advance CTE and ECMC Foundation announced the second cohort of The Postsecondary State Career Technical Education (CTE) Leaders Fellowship at Advance CTE—Sponsored by ECMC Foundation. The Advance CTE — ECMCF Fellows include representation across multiple demographic categories reflecting the Fellowship’s goal of intentionally building a postsecondary leadership pipeline for underserved populations in Career Technical Education (CTE)  that closes racial representation gaps and removes equity barriers to postsecondary leadership advancement. For this next blog in the ECMCF Fellow Feature series, we interviewed ECMCF Fellow Leisa Mathews who shared how her life experience drives her passion for creating opportunities for learners.

Tell us about your journey to the Fellowship.

Being from a very small town in Wyoming, I never thought that I could be a part of something so impactful.  I may have never applied for this Fellowship without the encouragement of Dr. Michelle Aldrich, the Wyoming State Director of Career & Technical Education and Perkins Funding.

We worked together when I worked as the Workforce Development Coordinator and Perkins Coordinator for Western Wyoming Community College. Dr. Aldrich was a great resource for me when I was completing the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessments (CLNA) and managing the Strengthening Career Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) Grant. After working together, she got to know me, and she suggested that I apply.

I’m here because I’ve seen the gaps in achievement and access through my work, and this Fellowship presented an opportunity to make a change. As a product of the system, as a mother, and as someone who has worked in both academics and the workforce, I know how to approach this work to serve those learners that fall through the cracks. 

What are the skills or areas where you’ve experienced the most growth in the program? 

My experience in the Fellowship is helping me change the culture of the workplace. Through networking with others in the Fellowship and attending the ECMC Convening, I’ve been able to listen and learn from others’ perspectives, and it helped me consider new ways to approach this work. Working with Perkins Grants, I recognized the gaps between groups of learners and the huge differences in representation. As a proud Asian woman, I can literally see myself represented in this data and understand the consequences when we don’t see or reach those small percentages of learners.

We have an influx of immigrant families entering this area, and high school counselors have difficulty going after them to let them know about the different career path options available. Without these relationships and awareness of their options, learners are missing out. I saw this play out with my own kids and witnessed how they had different opportunities offered to them; my younger daughter was in an energy academy program and due to that was encouraged to take dual and concurrent enrollment courses, but my other kids weren’t given that same support or options. Unless changes are made, this will continue to occur. Career counseling and the messages that our kids receive, whether implicit or explicit, can significantly impact their trajectories.

To be a change agent- I’m thinking about how we can implement changes that aren’t only addressing the problems, but that are also sustainable. This Fellowship is giving me the opportunity to learn so much more about how I can reach learners and leverage data to make sustainable change. 

Have you been tapped for new or more advanced roles within your organization as a result of your experience in the Fellowship? 

Since participating in the Fellowship, I have made career changes. While I am currently no longer in the field of education, I am fortunate enough that my employers in my current position, support my continued involvement and see the value in the Fellowship. I’ve been able to steer my organization to market new career opportunities for training for students. I want to visit the high schools and local technical schools to recruit students and emphasize the high-quality instruction and training programs that are available to them. As a small town, we’re invested in retaining talent, and this is an opportunity to reach students early and let them know about the great career options available to them.

I’ve been able to show that I have the confidence to approach these partners and find creative ways to engage our future workforce. After being in the Fellowship and learning about what folks are doing elsewhere, I started to ask, “Why can’t we do that here in our town?” and I’ve been able to make things happen. I recently received a shoutout at our company’s quarterly meeting for bringing innovative practices to connect young people to our work. I’m passionate about creating pathways for learners because they don’t currently exist outside of traditional academic programs. They need to know that these opportunities for continued education exist and that employers are excited to invest in them.

How has your experience in the fellowship helped you explore new spaces or positions in postsecondary state CTE leadership? 

I want to make a difference. Working at the state level, such as in the Wyoming Department of Education, would provide me with the resources and contacts to make a significant impact. My current organization is incredibly supportive of me being in the Fellowship and they share my passion for growing our community. My strengths lie in finding the right person or resource and positioning them to have the biggest reach for the community, whether it’s students or families.

How has the Fellowship expanded your network? 

I wish I’d known what I know now about analyzing data or about different templates that states are using for their CLNAs. The Fellowship is giving me the missing context for connecting all of these dots, and everything started clicking together in my head.  The ideas for change have always been a part of me, but I now have the network and resources to bring those ideas to reality. 

This national lens has been incredibly valuable, and certainly, the amount of knowledge at my disposal through the other Fellows isn’t something that you can get anywhere else.

If you have any questions, contact Leisa Mathews by email at leisa2you@msn.com     

Amy Hodge, Policy Associate

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